Preview: Atlanta United (a).
When? Wednesday 7 October 4:00 p.m. PT, 7 p.m. ET 12:00 a.m. BST (8/10).
Where? Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on ESPN+, DAZN, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox 35 Plus. The game is also available on YouTube TV in the Orlando area only. The game is being broadcast on FreeSports (Freeview channel 64), live and on demand via their app for us U.K. folk. The game is available via radio locally, check local listings.
It feels like we've spoken about this before... recently too. Oh, right. That's because we have. The increasingly crazy MLS 2020 season has again pitted us against our enemies from the north. Northish. They still think they're kinds of the south. I'm at a lost to think why. The 5 shites... Dammit, it honestly just slips out. The 5 stripes have hit something resembling a bit of form recently, with 2 wins from 3. The second win came in their most recent game where they hammered a hapless D.C. United side4-0, in the capital.
Oscar Pareja's team, meanwhile, have hit a bit of form themselves. Actual form. And they will be desperate to right the wrongs of the last encounter, when Atlanta stole a barely deserved point at Exploria Stadium.
Atlanta, after a rocky start, are beginning to find their feet under Stephen Glass. Having seen them play a number of times this season, it was very difficult to discern their style. They seemed to be experiencing a real identity crisis. And I think they still are, to a certain extent at least. Whilst their style of play may be easier to identify, this is still a much weaker Atlanta United roster than we (and even they) are used to. They still have quality in certain areas, but are lacking real panache in others. As was showcased in their recent defeat to Chicago. They may have brushed aside Ben Olsen's D.C. United recently, but D.C. are riddled with problems themselves. The result seems like an outlier. Whilst the 2 wins from 3 I referenced earlier might seem like an improvement (it is), it should be taken with a heavy dollop of salt.
That's not to say this isn't a dangerous team, though. We saw the danger they possess at Exploria last month. Recently Glass' team have been utilising the talent they possess in wide areas. Players like Franco Escobar, George Bello and Brooks Lennon have become key to the way this team wants to play.
They struggle to dominate possession, only maintaining the ball more than 50% of the time once in their last 3 games. They are happy to sit and let teams dominate the ball, depending on the opposition. It's when the opposition lets them have the ball, that their weaknesses really begin to show. They lack the quality in central areas to really pick apart well organised defences. If you let them have possession, and you're sharp with your interceptions and recoveries there will be ample opportunity to break on them. Particularly as this team struggles with a high press. We saw all of this at Mercedes Benz Stadium back in August. Orlando, with 39% of the ball overall, scored 1 goal off a counter and another from winning the ball high up the field.
Atlanta are starting to realise they can cause problems from out wide, particularly with their direct style of play (57% of their play against D.C. came in the form of a long ball). Adam Jahn makes up for what he lacks in pace, with his physicality. His hold up play from the long balls allows him to bring the likes of Brooks Lennon into play. Against D.C., Lennon got into a number of dangerous areas, as did Jon Gallagher, (figure 2) and often looked for Jahn with the cross. Jahn has tremendous aerial ability, and with Orlando having a perceived weakness from crosses, this could be something they look to exploit. The passing network graphic in in figure 1 highlights just how often Jahn brought Lennon and Jon Gallagher (on the left) into play.
Figure 1 highlights just how direct Atlanta are with their play, and how key Adam Jahn is to their more direct style.
Figure 2 shows how often Orlando's wingers, Lennon and Gallagher, got into dangerous areas on the flanks.
Orlando's selection concerns seem to be mounting. This stretch of games will really test the team's depth, as they continue to hunt for Supporters Shield glory. Dom Dwyer and Joao Moutinho continue to be out with their respective injuries. Uri Rosell and Tesho Akindele are also listed as 'not medically cleared'. Oscar Pareja is currently waiting on the fitness of Ruan as well, whilst Matheus Aiás is still not available. The former Watford striker underwent additional medical testing lately, and has not played in some months.
Sebas Mendez and Pedro Gallese are also unavailable having joined their respective national teams for their upcoming matches.
Atlanta, meanwhile are still without Josef Martinez and Erick Torres. Stephen Glass, this week, revealed that Ezequiel Barco is struggling with an injury. The Argentine has been left out of the last few squads. At this point, it's unclear when he will return.
Possible starting XI
Even following on from their 4-0 away win in the capital, I would expect changes. I don't think Mo Adams plays two games in a week, after so long without playing. And no, I don't just say that because he (like me) is from Nottingham and I find it hard to see a Nottingham boy playing for... them. I think Damm comes in at the 10 and Wyke and Remedi come in to provide fresh legs in midfield.
The young winger enjoyed a fine game against D.C., notching 1 goal and 2 assists in the 4-0 win. He possesses pace, trickery and a keen eye for a pass. Whoscored.com had him rated as a perfect 10 last time out. Lennon played 4 key passes, completed 1 dribble and drew 4 fouls. The Arizona native had a spell with English giants Liverpool during his youth career. From there he joined Real Salt Lake in 2017 where, in all honesty, he struggled to make an impact. Lennon played 61 games, scoring 0 goals. In Atlanta, however, he seems to have found some form. Having won recognition as a US youth international, he will be wanting to play his way into USMNT consideration. At the age of 23, he has plenty of time to do it.
Orlando find themselves in great form just now, having extended their unbeaten streak with that win over the Red Bulls. The Lions are now 8-5-2 on the season and sit pretty in 3rd place in the eastern conference standings, 3rd overall. With a game against conference and shield frontrunners Columbus Crew on the horizon, Orlando will be desperate to take 3 points in Georgia.
Atlanta, meanwhile, are 5-2-8 on the season. They currently sit 8th in the east, with only a point keeping them above the dotted line. 2 wins in their last 3 games, has given them some hope that they may avoid missing the play-offs for the first time in club history. Though, there's still plenty of time for that to change.